Hiking in a Forest Born Out of Mount Fuji’s Lava

A thick forest thrives on hardened lava that once flowed down Mount Fuji’s northwestern flank into lakes that reflect the volcano’s snow-capped cone like rippling mirrors. Within it, the roots of hemlock and cypress trees snake out over the ground through a blanket of moss, and trails lead to deep caverns filled with ice.

The Aokigahara forest, as this tangle of woods is called, was born on 12 square miles of lava from an eruption in the year 864, the biggest in 3,500 years. The event left Japan’s rulers awe-struck and its countrymen inspired to worship the volcano as a god. A walk into this isolated place, where nature’s power to rebound from cataclysm is so clearly on display, can be intensely spiritual.

Perhaps because of that, the woods inspire an almost reverential fear in Japan and, increasingly, beyond it. In the past year alone, three North American movies have opened with plots based on the woods’ reputation as a suicide destination and warren of paranormal activity: “The Sea of Trees” with Matthew McConaughey, “The Forest” and “The People Garden.” Those films come six years after “Suicide Forest,” a Vice documentary that has gotten more than 15 million views on YouTube and has furthered the idea that the forest is a place where people end their lives.

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